New Year, New Opportunities!

I love the cartoon that shows someone making a list of New Year’s resolutions: “1. Gain weight. 2. Keep smoking. 3. Make lists. 4. Set reasonable goals.” I think that person went 4-for-4!

Already in 2017 I’ll have a couple of new opportunities to help bring about the Kingdom, and I’m looking forward to them. This weekend I’ll start teaching a new class at our church, intended for young adults who are either new to the church or who are reengaging with church after awhile. Called “Navigators,” it’ll be a chance for folks to explore Christianity–not a Christianity 101 class, but more of a 102 or maybe a 151 class, basic enough to make sure no one’s overwhelmed but engaged enough with where people are in their walk to make sure we’re covering what’s relevant. Sunday mornings at 9:45…come on by!

The other happens the following weekend: I’m fortunate to be able to have my daughter and my godson both walk at Chrysalis weekend C-94. As you may recall, in the spring I took part in an Emmaus weekend; Chrysalis is the teen version. I’ve been getting more and more excited for them as it draws near: I remember the incredible power of the weekend in revealing God’s love and in the work his Spirit still can do through me, and I’m praying they’ll be able to enjoy it similarly. Stay tuned!

But in the end, this is what a new year needs to look like: new opportunities to engage with Jesus, to be open to where he may be leading in building his kingdom. I’ve never taught a class before; I’m nervous about it, but also looking forward to it. In the same way, I’m excited for the kids to walk and to have powerful experiences of Christ, and to strengthen themselves as part of the Kingdom.

How are you opening yourself to hearing where Jesus needs you this year? How are you making yourself available to the Spirit to build the kingdom here and now?

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“Can’t Somebody Tell Me What Christmas is All About?

“Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”

“Lights, please.”

“‘And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”‘”

“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Merry Christmas from our home to yours, and may the truth of that first Christmas light your day, your year, and your life.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come

It’s Advent already. Phew. Wasn’t it just Labor Day? Wasn’t Easter about two weeks before that? How is it we made another lap around the sun already?

There’s the old joke about how wrong it is to be surprised that Christmas is around the corner: after all, it hasn’t moved off of December 25th in hundreds of years. And yet each year I find myself making plans to be better prepared to have a more meaningful Christmas, only to have them dashed against the rocks.

I think there’s two places I go awry at Advent each year. One is in just the sheer busyness of the season, and getting caught up in everything that’s “expected.” Here’s this weekend, for example. Saturday morning, Emmaus accountability breakfast with the men who help keep me centered in Christ. Then home to get our daughter to an appointment, then down to get my mom for her own appointment with the dentist at noon. After, a bite to eat, then off shopping for the holidays ahead of the annual lay leadership dinner at church in the evening, before a “mandatory” holiday party at a coworker’s house (“You’ve really got to come!”). Then Sunday is church, grocery shopping, making a batch of chili for the office holiday week coming up, going to help pack my mom ahead of moving next week (!), and then a couple hours in the office (because I didn’t get everything done and it’s a busy season and my boss gets back Monday and will expect things to be Just So).

It’s madness! And yet those are my days and weekends in December every year. Where’s the rest? Where’s the sabbath? Where’s the peace, the joy?

And that’s the second place I go off the rails. My Advent isn’t nearly enough about that ancient prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus, come.” We’re called to devote time each December to remembering the promise that what began in a manger two millennia ago will come to fruition when Christ returns.

“Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelation 22:12-13)

Christ promises he will return. And my sin in Advent is I don’t spend nearly enough of my heart on praying for that day, on readying myself for his second coming. Instead I get consumed by the to-do list, not the to-love list. I suspect I’m not alone (OK, I know I’m not). But it remains my goal every year: to live a life more aligned with the prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”

It’s Advent again. A fresh chance to let my heart turn to Christ. Pray I don’t miss it again this year.

Thankfulness

We celebrated another Thanksgiving yesterday. The usual: the turkey (18# this year), the stuffing, the gravy, the mashed potatoes, the sweet potatoes, the peas, the green beans (French style), the rolls, the cranberry sauce, the onions….  Brought my mom over, and College Boy was home for the week, his first time home in three months. All in all, a Thanksgiving like so many others.

Once we push back from the table, once we start “trippin’ on tryptophan,” do we rush into the next season and start decorating for Christmas? Or do we continue in thanksgiving?

To be thankful ought to be more than an annual occurrence. It ought to be daily, hourly–it ought to be a continual prayer of thanks to God for all he’s done for us. Stopping down once a year to be thankful ought to feel embarrassing: if this is the only time we’re thankful, there’s so much we’re missing in our life with God.

I’m thankful for

  • the opportunity to have experienced God’s love so vividly at Emmaus this spring.
  • finding Mom a nursing home that will take her next month, where she can get the kind of care she needs and can be safe.
  • College Boy and his adventures of the past few months: there’s a new maturity I see that heartens me, that makes all the struggles of high school worthwhile.
  • my daughter, despite being in the midst of the aforementioned struggles with high school. Her commitment to the Lord is strong and I appreciate all that she is.
  • my bride, for putting up with me nearly 24 years now. ‘Nuf sed.
  • grace, without which thankfulness is meaningless, and without which so much of the last year would have been impossible.
  • friends, family, coworkers, fellow pilgrims on the trail
  • my dog. I mean, who wouldn’t be thankful for her?
  • anyone reading this. Seriously: if you care enough to be following me and reading these words, I’m thankful that God has led you across my path.

The list, really, is endless. And isn’t that the point? Shouldn’t we live our lives so that they are a testament to how grateful we are to God for all he’s already done for us, instead of asking for the next thing?

Discipleship?

Had an interesting e-mail conversation among folks from church this week around the question: What is discipleship?

It’s one of those church words that gets tossed around, and for those exploring or unfamiliar with the church, it doesn’t mean anything. But even for those who are longtime members, you can get an interesting conversation going around that question. Fundamentally, it refers to being like a disciple: being like one of the original followers of Christ, who gave themselves to him and to spreading the word of God. But what does it mean?

On the one hand, discipleship can be a noun–it’s the process, the stages and steps, by which someone comes from the first inklings of curiosity about Jesus, through learning about him and what he did for us, through committing to be a follower, to growing and knowing what following Christ means, through to a mature disciple. It’s a process of spiritual growth and transformation that follows the threefold nature of grace.

Or is it? Or instead, is discipleship an adjective describing the state of being a disciple? Is it better understood as the end state on earth, the goal of the process if you will, in which grace is operating to bring us to that state?

What do you think? Should we think of discipleship as a process, or as a goal?

Hearing From God

As Christians we are called to be in a relationship with God. And any successful relationship I’ve ever been in means both sides get to talk.

It’s true, isn’t it, that for the most part our prayer life is a monologue? And a needy one at that: we pray for this, for that. But how often are we able to actually shut up and listen for the other half of the conversation?

I confess I’m as fallible as the next man in that I still need to develop that listening skill more. My bride will tell you that too. But sometimes, if we allow ourselves, we can hear God’s word for us. Sometimes it’s in music, even.

Case in point: lately I’ve been kinda preoccupied with the health of both my mother and my daughter, and the effect each is having on their place of residence and schooling, respectively. Yesterday was a very tense day, with one path seeming to close for where Mom might be able to move next, and frustrations with my daughter’s progress mounting in me as well.

This morning, however, I kept hearing two songs alternating in my head: Jason Gray’s “Sparrow“:

You can’t add a single day by worrying
You’ll worry your life away
Oh don’t worry your life away
You can’t change a single thing by freaking out
It’s just gonna close you in
Oh don’t let the trouble win

You may feel alone
But you’re not on your own

If He can hold the world He can hold this moment
Not a field or flower escapes His notice
Oh even the sparrow
Knows He holds tomorrow.

And Ryan Stevenson’s “Eye of the Storm“:

In the eye of the storm
You remain in control
And in the middle of the war
You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor
When my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me
In the eye of the storm.

And when I stop to recognize what it is that’s going on in my head, I recognize it as God’s voice, telling me to let him be that anchor, and that I’m not alone in this–that he’s got my back, and will see me through. That’s powerful! It was so reassuring to know that even this sparrow isn’t outside God’s notice, and that he will guard my soul with all that’s coming against me right now. In those little moments, sometimes, we hear his voice. And we are in awe at how much we’re loved, even, or especially, in the eye of the storm.

Visiting College Boy

This past weekend we had our first chance to go and visit College Boy, seven weeks into his freshman year. It was so good to see him–he slept in a little Saturday morning, but still was sitting on the steps by the parking lot waiting for us when we pulled up. Lots of hugs, and in many ways it was like we hadn’t been gone.

And yet it was different. He’s maturing in his own way: he took himself out to buy new running shoes, instead of coming to us asking for us to buy them for him. He’s also learned already, as he told his sister, that “In high school, they just expect you to know stuff. In college, they expect you to put it together.” If he’s figured out that secret already, and can apply it, then he’s in good shape for the next three years.

Lots of time together throughout the day: in his dorm room, then to lunch at a place he’d always wanted to try but was too far to walk, and then to Wal-Mart to load up. Evening spent with him and his roommate, enjoying the free bowling, billiards, and ping-pong at the student center.

In the late afternoon, as the ladies relaxed, he and I sat for awhile as he showed me You Tube videos he’d found funny. In that hour, as we shared Internet laughs, it was like he’d never left and was still coming to me to show me something funny he’d found online. I savored that connection once more.

And yet it was different. Around 9:30, he announced that he was tired and ready to turn in. When we asked if we should come back in the morning for brunch, or just go home without seeing him, he said, “You can just go home.” Our brief time was over, and, like a dream, didn’t get to last to the morning.

We have these little tastes of love, these little moments of joy, and the disappointment we feel when they pass remind us that this isn’t where our souls are meant to be. One day, our joy will be complete. Until then, we have the imperfect–the quick visit, the touches of grace–that can only hint at the spectacular wonder we’ll savor when we’re all together with Christ forever.